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March 26, 2018 Other Voices

Fortifying ties between physicians, specialists

Jess Kupec
Dr. Ronald Kimmel

There has been an unintended consequence of today's changing healthcare landscape: private care physicians and hospital-based surgeons and specialists throughout the Hartford region just don't know each other anymore.

This has become a concern because primary care physicians (PCPs) need information about specialists to provide the best referrals for patients.

Similarly, specialists who are asked by patients for PCP referrals are sometimes at a loss because they don't know who to recommend.

While several factors contribute to this growing divide among care providers, the biggest has been the advent of the “hospitalist,” the physician who treats patients at the hospital only. Hospitalists have been developing as a specialty since 1996, and today there are more than 44,000 in the country.

Each hospital in Connecticut has a team of hospitalists on staff. By using hospitalists, PCPs are better able to focus on patients in their office, providing a greater level of care and consultation. This has led to increased quality of comprehensive patient care and has greatly reduced physician “burn out” trying to manage both office and hospital patients.

However, by being away from the hospital setting the PCP has lost the chance to truly network and get to know specialists. Simultaneously, surgeons no longer have as many chances to meet and interact with PCPs to build relationships necessary for targeted referrals, consultations and shared expertise.

Early on during the introduction of hospitalists, surgeons and physicians with existing relationships were able to maintain them; but as doctors retired or relocated, there was no program in place to bring professionals together.

St. Francis Healthcare Partners (SFHCP), which works with more than 750 primary and specialty care physicians and 325 clinicians, began to address this problem by developing an outreach program with educational and networking opportunities for our medical professionals. This includes connecting and introducing providers and practitioners within the SFHCP network through one-on-one personalized meetings, as well as organizing larger “speed networking” evenings.

Designed by our professional development committee after the speed-dating model, each event allows surgeons and specialists to rotate around a room and meet with small groups of PCPs at tables. Each group spends 10 to 15 minutes sharing contact information, discussing specialties and simply getting to know each other.

The first two events held in Windsor and Glastonbury had larger-than-expected turnouts (185 people total) with physicians staying well past the scheduled end time. They enjoyed the face-to-face interaction and expressed enthusiasm for similar programs in the future.

This physician speed-networking event proved to be a great way to build and reinforce connections among the SFHCP group. It's a concept that could easily be applied by any other service-based organization.

As one of the oldest physician hospital organizations in the country, SFHCP recognizes change in health care is ongoing and that medical professionals need to continuously adjust.

So many of these changes are positive — such as the introduction of hospitalists, the growing use of electronic medical records, and the increase in the level of care provided at the physician's office — but they sometimes have downsides that need to be addressed.

Jess Kupec is St. Francis Healthcare Partners' president and CEO; Dr. Ronald Kimmel is vice president and chief medical officer.

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